Life of Buddha Shakyamuni

Reclining Buddha - Ajanta CavesAmong the many great religions of the world, Buddhism is a highly respected religion of reason and meditation. It has been considered by many of history's greatest minds to be the widest and most powerful field of human thought. In order to understand Buddhism one must gather reliable information about the teacher who taught the path. Lord Buddha, the originator of the sublime teachings, the basis of all happiness and peace is not to be understood as a jolly and corpulent man. This is a popular misconception. ‘Buddha" is Sanskrit for one who is "fully enlightened" about the nature and meaning of life and all existent phenomena. In fact, it is not an ordinary name of a person, but a title designated for one who has reached the highest state of enlightenment.

Although the appearance of a Buddha in the world is as rare as the flower of the Udumbara tree, numerous "Buddhas" appear successively as suitable but long intervals. I would assume that there are actually many kinds of time but mainly two: That is, historical time measured in years and centuries, and cosmic time measured in aeons or kalpas.

This is an exceptionally rare aeon during which one thousand Buddhas are said to appear on this world. Due to the auspiciousness of having a thousand Buddhas in one aeon, it is known as "Bhadra-Kalpa", which means fortunate aeon. Various Buddhas have appeared at times of different lifespan lengths of human beings of this planet (Jambudvipa, the Southern continent) throughout the kalpa. They were Buddha Krakuchchanda, Kanakamuni, Kashyapa and Shakyamuni. The Buddha Krakuchchanda is said to have come when average human beings lived as old as eighty-thousand years. Kanakumuni and Kashyapa Buddha came when the human lifespan was thirty-thousand and twenty-thousand years respectively. It must have taken billions and billions of years to decrease human beings' lifespan down to a hundred years. Our historical Buddha Shakyamuni came to the world when average human beings' lifespan was a hundred years, an age of conflict as it is known in literal language. It was 2,528 years ago that he came to this world, that is 455 years before Christ. The average lifespan of human beings in this century would approximately be seventy years or even less.

The Mahayana tradition of Buddhism asserts that Shakyamuni Buddha, during his previous lives as a Bodhisattva, firstly generated Bodhicitta, an enlightened aspiration to benefit limitless sentient beings. Consequently, he accumulated the stocks of merit and exalted-wisdom for the duration of three great incalculable kalpas and finally reached enlightenment at the Buddha-realm of Akanishta. He came to the world to lead immeasurable sentient beings to the state of Buddhahood with the skilful demonstration of the twelve great deeds of an enlightened being.

THE RESOLVE TO TAKE SUPREME REINCARNATION

Previous to his life as the Indian Prince Siddhartha, Buddha lived and taught Dharma in Tushita, the Joyous Buddha field. All the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions requested him that the time had come to manifest the supreme rebirth in the world of Jambudvipa, the Southern continent. The Bodhisattva then handed Maitreya (the future Buddha of loving kindness) his jewelled crown. He then proclaimed to the Devas that Maitreya was now regent and would be taking the office of Teaching in Tushita heaven. Before entering the world, the Bodhisattva made five careful observations concerning the time, place, caste, lineage and mother to whom he would be born. Just as he developed his thought of enlightenment, it was a suitable time for him to manifest when human beings only lived a hundred years of age with great conflict.

Time must have ripened for many fortunate sentient beings to be guided when the Bodhisattva resolved to come to the world. Moreover, there is a great significance for his conceiving in his mother's womb when his mother had hardly a year to live. Buddhas only appear in the world to liberate sentient beings from the sufferings of rebirth and death. As far as the observation of the place or continent is concerned, Jambudvipa, the southern continent was more suitable as human beings have extremely sharp faculties for developing pure renunciation. Human beings of other continents had excessive wealth and pleasure which intoxicated their minds and made them dull and unreceptive to spiritual teachings. When there are suitable places and fortunate beings, there a Buddha will take his manifestation. It is said that the supreme reincarnation of a Buddha only takes his rebirth in either a Kshatriya, the ruling class; or as a Brahmin, the class of people who officiate as priests and custodians of religious knowledge.

DESCENT FROM TUSHITA HEAVEN

There was a city, once dwelling and meditation place of the great saint, Kapila which had its sides surrounded by the beauty of a lofty broad table-land as if by a line of clouds, and its high soaring palaces were immersed in the sky. There were high and beautiful peaks surrounding the northern region in the shape of a crescent moon. It was named Kapilvastu and was the capital city of the Shakya clan whose powerful ruling king was Shudodhana. In that city, shining with the splendour of gems, darkness like poverty could find no place; prosperity shone resplendently, like a smile, there the King dwelt with joy amidst the unsurpassingly excellent citizens. He was a king of wide-reaching majesty, gentle, generous and under his rulership the little kingdom of Shakya was like the moon amidst the stars shining with a light of its own. He had a queen by the name of Mahamaya who was like a mother to her subjects. She was intent on their welfare, devoted to all, worthy of reverence like devotion itself, shining on her Lord's family like the goddess of prosperity. She was the most eminent of goddesses to the whole world. Her parents were the Koliya King Suprabuddha and his Queen Lumbini.

A Buddha always takes his supreme reincarnation in a highly honoured caste and at that time, the Royal Shakya clan had been very pure for the previous seven generations. (A descendent of Ishwaku and Gautame, the Royal Shakya clan is also known as the Solar Race.) He also observed that Mahamaya had prayed and wished for a long time to be a mother of a Buddha and he knew that she had ripened karma.

Buddha, after being advised by a divinity to descend on earth, came down in the aspect of a six-tusked elephant. Descending from the host of beings in the Tushita heaven to destroy the evils of the world, the most excellent of Bodhisattvas suddenly entered Mahamaya's womb through her right side. It was at the auspicious time of midnight on the full moon. Prior to the Bodhisattva's entering the womb, there occurred innumerable signs and omens in the kingdom. Mahamaya had very unusual dreams in which she saw a crystal snow- and silver-coloured elephant with six tusks who dissolved into her, giving her an experience of great bliss and joy. She enquired to the soothsayers about this and they predicted that a son had been conceived in her who would become a great universal monarch if he followed the life of a householder. But if he instead were to follow the life of a monk, he would become a fully enlightened being. Having blessed the womb of his mother, she was protected at all times by Yakshas. The Bodhisattva then gave continual teachings to the Devas of the Heaven of Thirty-three, Brahma and others, while maintaining the uncontaminated bliss in the womb for ten months. Mahamaya remained free from fatigue, depressions and fancies which usually accompany pregnancies. Pure herself, she longed to withdraw into the forest, where in the solitude and peace she could practice meditation.

THE BIRTH OF THE BUDDHA

About ten miles away from the city of Kapilvastu, there was a beautiful park called "Lumbini", with trees of every kind, like the grove of Citraratha in Indra's paradise. This grove was named after Buddha's mother-in-law Lumbini, who had a great fondness for the delightful grove presented to her by her husband, the King of Devadaha. One day, as the long awaited time of the child's birth was approaching, Queen Maya asked the King to accompany her, and so they left the city and went to the glorious garden of Lumbini. As the Queen noticed that the time of the delivery was approaching, she reached and grasped a branch of a royal palaksha tree, and as she looked to the sky, the son emerged from her right armpit, without causing her pain or injury.

The propitious constellation of Pushya shone brightly at that time. Like the sun bursting from a cloud in the morning, so Buddha too, when he was born from his mother's womb, made the world bright like gold, bursting forth with his rays which dispelled the darkness. With glory, fortitude and beauty he shone like the young sun descended upon the earth; when he was gazed at, though of such surpassing brightness, he attracted all the eyes like the moon. The sky was suddenly filled with a magnificent array of offerings by the Devas. Both Brahma and Indra approached the child with offerings of Kashika muslin, but the child arose and exclaimed, "Let me go!" Instantly he walked seven steps, firmly with long strides. He then gazed at the four quarters and spoke these words full of meaning for the future.

"I am born for Enlightenment,
For the welfare of all that lives.
This is the last time
That I shall enter into this world."

When he was born, the earth, though fastened down by the monarch of mountains, shook like a ship tossed by the wind and from a cloudless sky there fell a shower full of lotus and water-lilies perfumed with sandalwood. Pleasant breezes blew, soft to the touch, dropping down heavenly garments. The sun, though still the same, shone with augmented light and fire gleamed, unstirred, with a gentle lustre. King Shudodhana, it is related, was greatly upset by these omens, and it was to obsess him as his son grew up. But meanwhile the child was the focus of everyone's admiration. His skin, it is said, had a golden hue and gleamed with a metallic glow. His eyes were blue, "like the flower of the flax plant", his hair was black with a bluish tinge and his limbs were perfectly moulded. Seven days after his birth, his mother, Queen Maya passed away and was reborn in the heavenly realm of Thirty-three gods. The lifespan of his mother was carefully observed before he was conceived as there was a danger of her having a heart attack if she had later seen her son leaving the palace for the forest. However, he was not deprived of motherly care, for the Queen's sister, Prajapati-Gautami took responsibility for him with the assistance of thirty-two other women.

King Shudodhana, it is related, was greatly upset by predictions from the seers that his son would turn away from the princely life that was designated to him and become a homeless wandering ascetic. Sudodhana was obsessed by this as his son grew up. But meanwhile the child was the focus of everyone's admiration. His skin, it is said, had a golden hue and gleamed with a metallic glow. His eyes were blue, "like the flower of the flax plant", his hair was black with a bluish tinge and his limbs were perfectly moulded. Seven days after his birth, his mother, Queen Maya, passed away and was reborn in the heavenly realm of thirty-three gods. The lifespan of his mother was carefully observed before he was conceived as there was a danger of her having a heart attack if she had later seen her son leaving the palace for the forest. However, he was not deprived of motherly care, for the queen's sister, Prajapati-Guatami took responsibility for him with the assistance of thirty-two other ladies.

THE BODHISATTVA'S YOUTH AND MARRIAGE

His childhood passed without serious illness, and in due course he reached maturity. After a few years Siddhartha went to school, where he joined the ten thousand children of the noble Shakya clan. His intelligence quickly impressed his teachers and he rapidly learnt a wide range of subjects, including language, mathematics, logic, medicine and metaphysics without even having to be taught. He was tall, strong and handsome, and his pleasant manner and kindness endeared him to everyone.

Since the King of the Shakyas had, however, heard from Asita and others, that the supreme beatitude would be the Prince's future goal, he tried to tie him down by sensual pleasures, so that he might not go away into the forest.

At the age of sixteen, the King advised him that it was time for him to take a wife and that a suitable consort from a family of long-standing should be sought. Although the Prince was perfectly aware of all the faults of desire, he also knew that the Bodhisattvas of the past had been able to provide for their wives and children without letting this hinder their spiritual practices. The Prince wrote that a women of thirty two qualities would be highly acceptable for his consort. The King's ministers then scoured the countryside in search of a young woman possessing the necessary qualities. Finally, they came upon the daughter of a King named Dandapani, Princess Yashodhara, who was the cousin of the Prince, and seeing that she fitted the Prince's description, they invited her and many other maidens to come as prospective brides of Prince Siddhartha.

Upon their arrival, the Prince gave each of them a gift, but by the time Yashodhara came forward, there were no more gifts left. He then took a precious ring from his own hand and presented it to her. So the Prince's choice fell on Yashodhara, a beautiful and charming girl, a true goddess of fortune in the shape of a woman. To the King's great pleasure, they were married in a ceremony with much rejoicing. Thousands of other beautiful maidens were also brought as his queens including Gopi and Margadhaja who were specially chosen by the Prince on different occasions.

He spent most of his time in specially constructed apartments, furnished with the delights proper for every season, gaily decorated like heavenly chariots upon the earth, and bright like clouds of autumn, amidst the splendid musical concerts of singing women. They entertained him with soft words, tremulous calls, wanton swayings, sweet laughter, butterfly kisses and seductive glances. He became captive of these women who were well versed in the subject of sensuous enjoyment and indefatigable in sexual pleasures. And it did not occur to him to come down from the palace to the ground, just as people who, in reward for their virtues, live in a palace in heaven are content to remain there, and have no desire to descend on the earth.

SETTING FORTH TO HOMELESSNESS

The Prince lived in the pleasure of the world in the palace with the company of his queens until the age of twenty-nine. Since it is the nature of truth that the Bodhisattva actualises every deed on time, one day he heard a voice speaking through the notes of the music played by his queens.

"The three realms of the world are aflame with the suffering of old age and death.
Protectorless, sentient beings remain ignorant that
This blazing fire of death arises from Samsara.
And they live like bees circling about the inside of a vase

The three realms are impermanent like the clouds of Autumn.
The birth and death of sentient beings is like watching a drama show.
Like a flash of lightning, the life of sentient beings
Is passing and fleeting like a water-fall of a steep mountain"

Hearing these words, the Prince generated his thoughts to enlightenment. That night the King dreamt that the Prince had taken to the wandering life, so he ordered guards to observe him and yet more pleasures to be offered to him. All the diversions provided by the King did not prevent the Prince feeling bored and restless, and one day he summoned his charioteer and personal attendant Chandaka to take him for a drive in the countryside. The King heard the plan of his dearly beloved son, and arranged a pleasure excursion which would be worthy of his own affection and royal dignity, as well as of his son's youth. But he gave the orders that all the common folk with any kind of suffering should be kept away from the royal road, because he feared that they might agitate the Prince's sensitive mind. Very gently all cripples were driven away, and all those who were crazy, aged, ailing and the like, and also wretched beggars. So the royal highway became supremely magnificent.

On the day of the excursion the Prince ordered his charioteer to make ready his carriage. He left the palace through the eastern gate. They had not gone far, however before he saw amidst all the magnificence a hunched up tired-looking old man (which was an illusion created by the gods for the Prince to see through the deception, in this way they hoped to induce him to leave his home). The charioteer then explained to the Prince the meaning of old age. The Prince reacted to this unheard news like a bull when a lightning flash crashes down near him. His lofty soul was shocked to hear of old age. He sighed deeply, shook his head, fixed his gaze on the old man, surveyed the festive multitude, and, deeply perturbed, said to the charioteer: "How can I delight to walk about in the park when my heart is full of fear of ageing? Turn around the carriage and take me back to my palace." And the Prince went back into his palace, which now seemed empty to him, as a result of his anxious reflections.

Some time passed and once again the Prince decided on a second pleasure excursion. This time the same gods created a vision of a man with a diseased body. He was so weak that he could not stand up, but rolled and writhed on the ground. His eyes were bloodshot, his mouth was frothing and he groaned and beat his breast in agony. When this fact was explained to the Prince, he was dismayed, trembled like the reflection of the moon on rippling water, and in his compassion he uttered these words in a low voice: "This then is the calamity of sickness, which affects people! The world sees it, and yet does not lose its confident ways. Greatly lacking in insight it remains gay under the constant threat of disease. We will not continue this excursion, but go straight to the palace! Since I have learnt of the danger of sickness, my heart is repelled by pleasures and seems to shrink into itself."

On a third excursion, the same gods displayed a funeral procession, which only the Prince and his charioteer could see being borne along the road. The charioteer again explained the meaning of this sight to the Prince. Courageous though he was, the Prince on hearing of death, was suddenly filled with dismay and he spoke these words in a forceful voice: "This is the end which has been fixed for all, and yet the world forgets its fears and takes no heed! The hearts of men are surely hardened to fears, for they feel quite at ease even while travelling along the road to the next life. How could an intelligent person pay no heed at a time of disaster, when he knows of his impending destruction?"

On a fourth excursion the same gods displayed a shaven monk, which was an unaccustomed sight, awaiting them on the roadside. Chandaka explained that this man was an ascetic, one who renounced the world and instead travelled on a spiritual path to seek a solution to the enigma of life. Greatly impressed, the Prince did not this time turn back but drove on, deep in thought he said to himself: "I must become like that ascetic. I too shall renounce the world, this very day, and seek that deliverance from suffering".

When the King learned of this, he ordered that the walls and gates of the palace be heavily guarded and that the wives of the Prince increase their efforts to amuse him. But the Prince, far from finding them seductive, felt as if he were in a cemetery while he gazed upon their sleeping bodies. He began to feel like a lion hit in the region of heart by an arrow smeared with a potent poison. Not for the first time, but now with overpowering effect, he felt the positive call to save not only himself but all living beings from birth in the world of suffering.

One of his queens that night, dreamt that there was an earthquake in the kingdom. The Bodhisattva also dreamt that he was stirring the ocean with his limbs using Mount Sumeru as his pillow, doing this he emanated an illuminating light that dispelled the darkness and that a white canopy covered the entire world. The Bodhisattva then approached the King to grant him permission to give up the life of a householder and take up the life of an ascetic. The King was very reluctant but his son announced he would only remain if his father could free him from old age, sickness, and death. At his inability to grant this and at the repeated requests from his son, the King replied in a low voice saying: "May your wishes be fulfilled".

The Prince then decided to escape for the homeless life and he bade farewell to his sleeping Queen in the middle of the night. The gods knew of his intention and provided every protection for the flight. All the palace doors were open and he unhesitatingly went to the stables in the innermost courtyard. He roused Chandaka, and ordered him: "I want to depart from here tonight, and win the deathless state; quickly saddle and bring my horse!" Catur-Maharaja, the four great Kings of the universe and many other beneficial gods led the flight. It was midnight as Siddhartha, accompanied by the faithful Chandaka, rode quietly out of Kapilvastu. Only when he had gone beyond the city gates did he pause to look back at the palace, now sleeping in the moonlight, where he had spent all his life and where he was leaving behind everyone he knew and loved.

RETURN OF CHANDAKA

Riding through the night, they came to a hermitage near to the town of Uriji and approached to the bank of river Anumana. Siddhartha dismounted and he then took off his fine silk clothes and jewellery, handed them to Chandaka and told him to return them and his horse to his father. He then took off his sword and cut off his long hair. He threw his hair to the heaven of Thirty-three and it was housed in a stupa as an object of adoration. Since his princely garments were inappropriate to an ascetic, he put on some orange-coloured robes provided by a deity and took up a begging bowl and dismissed Chandaka with this message to his father: "I am going away to seek an escape from the misery of ageing, sickness and death, and there is no reason why he should grieve for me. Some day in any case all unions must come to an end, however long they may have lasted. As soon as I realise the deathless state, I shall return and teach it to everybody. I shall strive for the highest enlightenment - that is my first resolve! Death confronts me all the time - how do I know how much of life is still at my disposal?"

Chandaka tried to dissuade the Prince once more but he received this reply: "Chandaka, stop this grief over parting from me! All of us must one day go our separate ways sooner or later. Just think of my mother, who bore me in her womb with great longing. Fruitless proves her labour now. Birds settle on a tree for a while, and then go their separate ways again. The meeting of all living beings must likewise inevitably end in their parting. It is therefore unwise to have a sense of ownership over people who are united with us as in a dream for a short while only, and not in reality. My friend, you had better go away now and cease from grieving! But if your love for me still holds you back, go now to the King, and then return to me. And please, give my message to the people of Kapilvastu who keep their eyes on me."

At last Chandaka agreed to return to the city however, Kanthaka, the horse, refused to move. With all the persuasion from Chandaka, the horse finally departed with his eyes shedding tears of grief to leave his master. Unfortunately, Kanthaka died on the way back of a broken heart. Chandaka gave the message to the King and everyone in the city, and with the blessings of the Prince's message they were then freed from their grief.

SIX YEARS OF ASCETICISM

From then onwards the Prince led a religious life by having no worldly ties with anybody and he began a life of a wandering ascetic who followed the usual practice of begging his food and finding shelter wherever he could. He visited and studied with Alara-Kalama, a noted Sage in Vaishali who was teaching several hundreds of disciples, but he could find no answer to his heart's imperious demand. He then went to Udraka, another sage, and he quickly equalled that teacher's insight, but he was still not satisfied, for he had not attained freedom from the misery of the chain of rebirth and death.

Although King Shudodhana and Prajapati-Gautame had sent about five hundred people to look after the welfare of the Prince, he kept only five of them and ordered the rest to go back home. Siddhartha and his five companions, in search of a lonely retreat, went to live on the bank of River Nairanjana, the purity of which appealed to his valour. It was a good spot for their purpose, a tranquil wooded area, with the river to provide water. They set up a hermitage, and resolved to try and find their own way, unaided by any teacher, to their spiritual goal. Sage Gautama, as he was then known, along with his five mendicants, now decided to practice the mortification of the body. He began by eating less. At first he restricted himself to one meal a day, then gradually it became a meal every several days. He no longer begged but he fed himself on a staple diet of fruit, roots and the leaves of certain plants. He undertook a strict method of fasting, very hard for men to endure and he emaciated his body for six years.

Eventually, he was content each day with a single jujube-fruit, a single sesame-seed and a single grain of rice - so intent was he on winning the further, unbounded, shore of Samsara. With this practice, he entered in the absorption of all - pervasive concentration for the entire six years. The weight of his body was greatly reduced by this self-torture, but by way of compensation his psychic power grew correspondingly more and more. Wasted away though he was, his glory and majesty remained unimpaired, and his sight gladdened the eyes of those who looked upon him. It was as welcome to them as the full-moon in autumn to the white lotuses that bloom at night. His fat flesh and blood had all gone. Only skin and bone remained. Exhausted though he was physically, his depth seemed unexhausted like that of the ocean itself. Some Devaputras misinformed Sage Gautama's mother in the heaven of Thirty-Three that her son was going to die, this upset his mother. The Sage, knowing this through his clairvoyance, consoled his mother in these words:

"Even if the sun, moon, and all the stars were to fall on the earth,
I would not fear them as an ordinary person.
As I shall quickly reach the perfect Buddhahood,
Do not grieve for me just by seeing this!"

SUJATA'S GRAND FOOD OFFERING

After a time, however, it became clear to him that this kind of excessive self-torture merely wore out his body without any useful result. Impelled by both his dread of becoming (i.e. the continual cycle of death and rebirth in samsara) and by his longing for Buddhahood, he reasoned carefully that unless physical strength is constantly replenished, inward calm cannot be maintained. Only if the body is reasonably nourished can undue strain on the mind be avoided. As the Sage told his companions that he would once again eat gross food, they were so disgusted -- at what must have seemed to them a failure of discipline if not actually a betrayal of the understanding that they had jointly agreed upon -- they would have no more to do with him. They lost faith in him and left for Varanasi, disparaging him as they went.

However the Bodhisattva, now left to himself, went into the Nairanjana river to bathe in preparation for his first meal. Afterwards he slowly and painfully worked his way up the river bank, and the trees on the slope reverently bent their branches low to give him a helping hand. Shortly after, when the Bodhisattva sat under a banyan tree, Sujata a daughter of a rich farmer, happened to pass there, her heart bursting with joy. She looked like the foamy blue waters of the Yamuna river, with her blue dress, and her arms covered with blazing white shells. When she saw him, faith further increased her joy, her lotus eyes opened wide, she prostrated herself before him and begged him to accept her offering of food. It was highly nutritious milk cooked with rice which she offered in a golden bowl with great respect and faith. The Bodhisattva accepted it as a timely gift, and his meal marked the most fruitful moment of her life. For himself however, he gained the strength to win enlightenment. Now that his body had been nourished, the Sage's bodily frame became fully rounded again. The original golden hue and the thirty-two physical marks indicating that he was destined to become a Buddha were once more clearly visible.

VICTORY OVER THE MARAS

As he was definitely determined to win full enlightenment soon, he proceeded to the root of the bodhi tree, which he had chosen as the place for his act of great meditation. Both the tree and the Bodhisattva were thirty-five years old and this was at the sacred place, Vajrasana, the diamond seat where all Buddhas have achieved enlightenment. All the roads to Vajrasana were automatically swept by winds and rainfall caused by the Devas and all the trees bent down with respect to shade him as the Bodhisattva passed by. Brahma, the King of whole universe ordered all the Devas to make every kind of offering to the Bodhisattva who would reach the goal very soon. The incomparable sounds of his foot steps woke Kala, a Naga of high rank, who was as strong as a king elephant. Aware that the great Sage had definitely determined on enlightenment, he uttered this eulogy:

"Your steps, O Sage, resounded like thunder reverberating in the earth;
The light that issues from your body shines like the sun:
No doubt that you today will taste the fruit you so desire!
The flocks of blue jays which are whirling round up in the sky
Show their respect by keeping their right sides towards you;
The air is full of gentle breezes:
It is quite certain that today you will become a Buddha!"

The great Sage then met a grass-cutter named Swastika and, in these words, asked him to give him some grass:

"Swastika, would you quickly give me some Kusha grass for it will be of great benefit for me today?
I shall be achieving the peaceful and sublime Buddhahood
By defeating the troops of the Maras."

Swastika happily gave him some fresh bundles of Kusha grass, for this was considered a sacred grass for spiritual practitioners. Taking this, the great Sage walked to the bodhi tree and circumambulated three times and he laid down the stalks of fresh green grass with their tips meeting in the centre at the foot of the tree. He then sat upon them facing the east in a meditative posture and vowed,

"Even if my body dries up and my skin, bones and flesh fall away,
I shall not move from this seat until I have reached enlightenment."

When the great Sage took his seat, firm in his resolve, the dwellers in heaven experienced supreme joy; the herds of beasts and the birds uttered no cry; and the trees moved by wind made no sound. The radiating lights that emanated from the eye brows of the Bodhisattva illuminated uncountable realms and the worlds and the whole universe rejoiced, but Mara, the inveterate enemy of the true Dharma, shook with fright. Kamadva, the King of the Maras and his six children came with thousands of troops. Mara rules events connected with a life of passion, and he hates the very thought of liberation. His children asked him why he was so disconcerted in his mind. He replied, "Look over there at that Sage, clad in the armour of determination, with truth and spiritual virtue as his weapons, the arrow of his intellect drawn ready to shoot! He has sat down with the firm intention of conquering my realm. Is it any wonder that my mind is plunged in despondency? If he should succeed in overcoming me, and proclaims to the world the way to final liberation, then my realm would be empty today. But so far he has not yet won the eye of full omniscience. He is still within my sphere of influence. While there is time I therefore will attempt to break his solemn purpose, and throw myself against him like the rush of a swollen river breaking against its embankment."

But Mara and his followers could achieve nothing against the Bodhisattva. Instead due to the power of the Sage's loving-kindness and compassion, all their demonic weapons turned to flower garlands and offerings. The great Sage remained untroubled and suffered no fears and aversions like a lion seated in the midst of oxen. The whole troops of Mara were then completely crushed, and fled in all directions and behaved like a hostile army whose commanders had been slain in battle. Then the moon, like a maiden's gentle smile, lit up the heavens, while a rain of sweet-scented flowers, filled with moisture, fell down on the earth from above.

THE GREAT ENLIGHTENMENT

Then, having conquered the hosts of Mara by his firmness and calmness, the great master of mediation entered into concentrated absorption during which he gained the highest insight devoid of contamination. When the Lord attained "SAMYAK SAMBUDDHA", the omniscient state of perfect enlightenment, His body, in full meditation posture, rose into the sky to the height of seven palm trees and countless Bodhisattvas and Devas cast flowers and various offerings which richly adorned the bodhi tree with jewels. The happy earth shook in six different ways, like an overjoyed woman, when it was totally bathed by the brilliant light emanating from the Lord's body. All the Buddhas of ten directions praised the Buddha in the melodious sound of the Kalavinka bird and mighty drums of thunder resounded through the air.

In the first watch of the night, he recollected the successive series of his former births. "There I was so and so; that was my name; deceased from there I came here." In this way he remembered thousands of lives, as though living them over again. And having remembered each birth in all of those various transmigrations, the Compassionate one then felt pity for all living beings.

In the second watch of the night, he acquired the supreme divine eye to see the entire universe and the Karmic conditioning of each and every individual. He then found nothing substantial in the world of becoming, just as no core of heartwood is found in a plantain tree when its layers are peeled off one by one.

In the third watch of the night, he thought to himself: "Alas, living beings are themselves without essence. All this arises from vanity, over and over again they are born, they age, die, and then pass on to a new life. What is more, greed and dark delusion obscure their sight, and they are blind. Greatly apprehensive, yet they do not know how to get out of this great mass of suffering." He gained the complete realisation of the twelve links of interdependent origination as he reached perfection. He then thought: "This is the authentic way which, in the past, so many Buddhas and great seers, who also know the complete nature of all living beings, have travelled on to ultimate truth. Now I have obtained it."

In the fourth watch of the night, as the dawn broke, the great Seer took up the position which knows no more alteration, and the leader of all reached the state of omniscience. Pleasant breezes blew softly, rain fell from a cloudless sky, and though out of season, flowers and fruits dropped from the trees, showing reverence for him. Mandarawa flowers and lotus blossoms, and also water-lilies made of gold and beryl, fell from the sky on to the ground near the Shakya Sage, so that it looked like a place in the world of the Gods. Offering goddesses flew in the sky with many auspicious emblems in their hands. At that time, all the misfortunes and disasters of the world were eliminated and no one was angry or ill, as though they had reached full perfection. Everywhere the virtuous were strengthened, the influence of Dharma increased and the world rose above the stains of delusion. Filled with joy and wonder at the Sage's work, all the enlightened beings stood in their mansions in the heavens and showed him their reverence.

In this way, the great Seer gazed at the bodhi tree without loosening his lotus posture for the first week. During the second week, he travelled to the countless realms of the universe and examined the state of sentient beings. In the third week, he one-pointedly concentrated on the essence of Buddhahood. During the fourth week, he travelled as far as the oceans of the east and west and he promised not to pass away until he benefited countless sentient beings, although many evil Maras requested him to pass away.

He dwelled at the domain of the Naga King during the fifth week. During the sixth week, he sat under the foot of the nigrodha tree and benefited many evil spirits who then forsook their violent and harmful activities. During the seventh week, he went to a grove of datura trees where he met Trapusa and Ballika. These merchants from Uttara Utkala prepared a meal of honey, sugar-cane and flour for him and they offered it to him. As the great Seer was pondering what kind of bowl the previous Buddhas had used for receiving alms, the four guardians of the four quarters presented him with four golden bowls which he did not accept. He did, however, accept a stone begging-bowl offered by a local deity and blessed him in return by explaining the merit he would gain from making the valuable offering.

TURNING THE WHEEL OF DHARMA

The great Seer then roused himself again from his deep trance. In his great compassion he surveyed the world with his Buddha-eye, intent on giving it peace. When, however, he saw the world lost in distorted views and confused activities, thickly covered with the obscuration of defilements, and saw the exceeding subtlety of the Dharma of liberation, he felt inclined to take no action in teaching. Having thought this, he said to himself:

Though I have realised the nectar-like Dharma which is profound, peaceful, clear-light, devoid of imagination, and unconditioned, no one would be able to understand even if I teach them. Hence, I should dwell in the forest in silence.

Although, I have boundless loving-kindness to all living creatures I will not teach at anyone's request. I shall turn the wheel of Dharma if Brahma requests as all human beings are devoted to him.

As the great Seer entered into a trance he emanated lights from the tuft of hair between his eyebrows, which illuminated the whole darkness of the world. When it became dawn, Brahma, Indra and other gods grasped the Sage's intention to turn the wheel of Dharma at their request alone and so they approached the Sage to extend their requests. They reverently spoke to him these words, which were meant for the benefit of the world: "Please do not condemn all those who live as unworthy of such treasure! Oh! Please engender pity in your heart for beings in this world! Now that you, O Sage, have crossed the ocean of the world of becoming, please rescue the other living beings who have sunk so deeply into suffering! As a generous lord shares his wealth, so may you also bestow your own virtues on others!" Brahma and Indra made this formal request by making the offering of a thousand-spoked golden wheel and a right-swirling conch shell to the Sage who from his silence uttered an assenting, "So be it". Having made this request, the gods returned to their celestial abodes by the way they had come. In consequence the Sage was confirmed in his decision to set the world free by his teaching.

The Sage was now ready to begin his mission, and he contemplated to whom he should first expound the Dharma, who would be most likely to understand. "I will beat the drum of immortality in the darkness of the world." But preach to whom? His mind turned to his former teachers, Alara-Kalama and Udraka, but they had both passed away. Then he reflected upon the five mendicants who were dwelling at Deer Park of Rishipatana near Varanasi, about a hundred miles away. He set out on foot to make the long journey, which was many days of travelling. He saw the city of Kashi, which resembled the interior of a treasury. The city is better known these days as Varanasi which lies where the two rivers Varuna and Asi meet, and, between them they hold it in their embrace. Resplendent with majestic power, shining like the sun, he reached Deer Park. The cluster of trees resounded with the calls of the cuckoos as the great Sage arrived.

The five mendicants -- of Kaundinya clan, Mahanama, Vashpa, Ashvajit, and Bhadrajit -- saw him from afar and, recollecting the scorn and resentment they had felt on parting from him, said to one another: "Look, here comes that so-called ascetic Gautama, the pleasure-loving fellow who could not keep up a life of austerity and so fell back into ease and comfort! When he comes to us, we must ignore him for he is not worth saluting. Of course, if he should wish to talk to us, let us by all means converse with him. For it is unworthy of saintly people to act otherwise towards visitors, whoever they may be."

As the Buddha came closer, however, they began to see that he had somehow changed. He had a majestic, authoritative vibration about him such as they had not seen before, and without their realising it, their hostility disappeared. The nearer he came, the weaker was their resistance. Soon they went back on their plans. They went forward to greet him, and while one respectfully took his bowl and robe, another prepared a place for him to sit and a third hurried off to fetch water to wash his feet. By these manifold tokens of respect they all treated him as their teacher.

One evening, he delivered his first teaching which is known as "The Turning of the Wheel of Dharma". He spoke of the two extremes of sensuality and mortification, and of the Middle Way, the most profoundly validated path which lies between. In these words he taught the Four Noble Truths of suffering, its causes, cessation of its causes, and of the Eightfold Path which leads to the end of the suffering: "Listen, O large company of noble sons and daughters who form one vast congregation, as it was proclaimed by those Buddhas of the past, so shall I now proclaim it.

"These are the two extremes, O mendicants, in self-control -- the one which is devoted to the joys of desire, vulgar and common, and the other which is tormented by the excessive pursuit of self-inflicted pain in the mortification of the soul's corruption. These two extremes of the religious ascetic, are each devoted to that which is unworthy and useless. These have nothing to do with the true asceticism, renunciation of the world, or self-control, with true indifference or suppression of pain, or with any of the means of attaining deliverance. Let him, the Tathagata, the teacher of the world, proclaim the Noble Law which consists of the Four Noble Truths.

"What then is the Noble Truth of Suffering? Birth is suffering, decay is suffering, sickness is suffering, and death is suffering. To be conjoined with what one dislikes means suffering. To be separated from what one likes means suffering. Not to get what one wants, that also means suffering. In short all grasping at any of the five Skandas involves suffering.

"What then is the Noble Truth of the Origination of Suffering? It is that craving which leads to rebirth, accompanied by delight and greed, seeking its delight now here, now there, i.e. craving for sensuous experience, craving to perpetuate oneself, craving for extinction.

"What then is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering? It is the Noble Eightfold path, which consists of right view, right intention, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right mindfulness, right effort, and right concentration."

The Buddha gave extensive and repeated discourses on the Four Noble Truths which concluded with strong emphasis on understanding and realising them. He exclaimed: "And so I came to the conviction that suffering must be comprehended, its causes given up, its stopping mastered, and this path developed. Now that I have comprehended suffering, have given up its causes, have realised its cessation, and have developed this path -- now I can say that my faculty of spiritual vision has been opened. As long as I had not seen these four divisions of Noble Truths, so long did I not claim to be emancipated, then did I see that I had reached my goal."

When the great Seer, full of compassion, had thus proclaimed the Dharma, the leader of the ascetics, Kaundinya, along with hundreds of gods, obtained the pure and stainless Dharma wisdom. Similarly, after further teachings over time, many others gained insight and finally reached Arhatship.

A wealthy merchant from Shravasti respectfully invited Buddha to spend a rainy season retreat in his area. Buddha sent his most intelligent disciple, Shariputra, in advance to prepare for his visit. By now, the King Shudodhana was longing to see his son. He sent repeated messengers to ask him to return home. In due course the Buddha went to Kapilvastu and preached the Dharma to his father, wife and all the citizens at a specially- constructed monastery called Banyan. Many of his kinsmen including his closest relatives became his followers during his stay there. Five hundred Shakya youths became monks at this time including his own son, Rahula; his cousin, Ananda; his half brother Nanda; and Upali, the barber, who were to become his most important disciples.

After that the Buddha visited Shravasti where Shariputra and the wealthy merchant Anathapindika had already found the park of Prince Jeta which was a suitable place for a large assembly of monks to do retreat. Buddha accepted the gift of Jetavana grove in which King Prasendjit built a special hall where he challenged six teachers of other schools. On the first day of spring, which corresponds to the Tibetan New Year, the six other teachers took their seats and Buddha came to his, flying through the air. He sent forth fire and water from his body and the hall was destroyed then reformed as a transparent palace. Planting his toothpick in the ground, he caused a great tree to spring up, fragrant and fully laden with flowers and ripe fruit. He multiplied his body infinitely, filling all space with Buddhas expounding the Dharma. By performing these and many other miracles, he defeated his opponents, whose followers adopted the Buddhist doctrine. His miracles caused the people of Shravasti to honour and revere him greatly.

After this, Buddha departed from Shravasti and rose in glorious majesty miraculously above the triple world, reaching the heaven of Thirty-three where his mother dwelt. There he preached Abhidharma for her benefit. He passed the rainy season in the heaven. Then, descending from the world of the gods, he came to the region of Sankashya. A great assembly of kings and people of eight kingdoms gathered as they heard the news of his descent from heaven. As the Buddha descended, a flight of golden stairs appeared on which he descended. He was accompanied by Brahma and Indra as well as many hosts of gods who were holding a jewelled umbrella and many auspicious emblems. The kings on earth raised their faces to the sky, bowed low, and received him with great respect and honour.

Years later, the Buddha returned to Kapilvastu for another stay. In the meantime his father had died while his step-mother, who had raised Siddhartha after the death of his own mother, requested him to ordain her into his spiritual order. At first Buddha refused to ordain her, but at her repeated requests, and with Anandas's persuasion, she was ordained as the first woman in his order. In due course, she was joined by other ordained female members, including Yashodhara.

Devdatta, one of Buddha's cousins had also joined the order. His mind, so proficient in trances, whirled round in a kind of delirium. He became quite frenzied and did many despicable things. After failing to achieve permission to lead the order, he became very jealous of Buddha. He created a schism in the order, and the resulting separation further increased his ill-will. He even hired professional assassins to murder Buddha, yet in the end they fell at the Buddha's feet in devotion. It was under his bad influence, that King Ajatasatru let loose a maddened elephant from his palace towards Buddha who was on his way to beg alms. But the animal, affected by the Buddha's compassion and presence, fell on its knees paying homage to him. At the end of Devdatta's life, when he had been sick for a long time, he repented of his behaviour and decided to make his peace with the Buddha. Buddha, with his boundless compassion received him back into the order, predicting that he would actually achieve Buddhahood.

THE GREAT PASSING AWAY OF THE LORD

Years later, when the Lord was over eighty years of age, at Vaishali, the King of Mara appeared before him, requesting that he enter into final Nirvana. Previously, Buddha had mentioned several times to Ananda that a Buddha may remain alive until the end of an aeon. However, as Ananda was very deluded at that time, he failed to request this of Buddha in time. So Buddha rejected prolonging his lifespan and promised to the Mara that he would enter into Nirvana within three months. Buddha entered into a trance, to indicate that he was giving up the physical life to help beings to understand the law of transitoriness. At the moment he gave up his claim to live to the end of the aeon, the earth staggered in all directions, great firebrands fell from the sky. The Deva's thunderbolts flashed unceasingly on all sides, pregnant with fire and accompanied by lightning. Flames blazed up every where, as if the end of the world with its universal conflagration had come. Mountains toppled down and shed heaps of broken trees. There was a terrible sound of the heavenly drums thundering in the sky, like that of a cavern filled to the brim with wind.

When Ananda saw the commotion in the world, his hair stood on end, he wondered what it might be, he trembled and lost his habitual serenity. He asked the Buddha, for the cause of this event. Buddha replied: "This earthquake indicates that I have given up the remaining years of life still due to me. For three months only, reckoned from today, will I sustain my life." On hearing this, Ananda was deeply moved and his tears flowed, as gum flows from a sandalwood tree.

Buddha then went to Kushinagar with Ananda and gave him the order to arrange a couch for him between two sal trees. In his compassion, when he lay on his last resting place, he said to Ananda, who was deeply disturbed and in tears: "The time has come for me to enter Nirvana. Go, and tell the Mallas about it, for they will regret it later on if they do not now witness the Nirvana." Nearly fainting with grief, Ananda obeyed the order, and told the Mallas, the noblemen of Kushinagar, that the Sage was lying on his final bed. The Mallas on being informed of the Buddha's impending death, came and paid their respects, their faces covered with tears and anguish in their minds, they all stood around him. The Buddha spoke to them as follows:

"In the hour of joy it is not proper to grieve. Your despair is quite inappropriate and you should regain your composure! Everything comes to an end, though it may last for an aeon. The hour of parting is bound to come in the end. Now I have done all I can do, both for myself and for others. To stay here from now on would be without purpose. I have disciplined in heaven and on earth, all those whom I could discipline, and I have set them in the stream. Hereafter, this Dharma, O monks, shall for generations and generations be practised among living beings. Therefore recognise the true nature of the living world, and do not be anxious; for separation cannot possibly be avoided. Recognise that everything that lives is subject to this law; and strive from today onwards that it shall be thus no more! When the light of wisdom has dispelled the darkness of ignorance, when all existence has been seen as without substance, peace ensues. When life draws to an end, it seems at last to cure a long sickness. Everything whether stationary or movable, is bound to perish in the end. Therefore, work for your own liberation with diligence! The time for my entry into Nirvana has now arrived! These are my last words!"

Then, passing through all the nine stages of meditative absorptions both in ascending and reversed process, he finally entered the Mahaparinirvana, the great passing away of the Lord. The earth shook, stars shot from the heavens, the sky in the ten directions burst forth in flames and the air was reverberating with heavenly music. Beautiful flowers grew out of season on the sal trees above the Buddha's couch, and the trees bent down over him and showered his golden body with flowers.

RELICS AND SCRIPTURES

In due course the weeping monks and the local noblemen placed the body of Lord Buddha on a precious bier of ivory inlaid in gold. They performed befitting ceremonies for the occasion, and honoured him with many kinds of charming garlands and fine perfumes. Everyone took hold of the bier with great faith and devotion. Some held up a priceless canopy with white garlands, while others waved yak tails set in gold. They raised a beautiful pyre with aloe wood, sandalwood and sweet-scented barks and leaves. They then placed the body on it and tried to light the pyre with a torch, but it refused to burn due to the meditative power of Mahakashyapa. However, once he arrived, made prostrations and paid his respects, the pyre spontaneously burst into flames.

Sacred relics of the Holy one were found in the ashes of the pyre. Everyone worshipped the relics with great devotion and respect by placing them in golden pitchers. During the seven days of worshipping with utmost devotion ambassadors arrived from the seven neighbouring kings, who asked for their share of the relics. Although the proud Mallas did not want to give relics to any of the other kingdoms, the wise and influential counsellor, Drona, suggested they share the relics equally between the eight kingdoms to avoid any conflict. Eventually, everyone got their equal share of relics, in honour of they joyfully erected stupas in their respective capital cities. All the four pilgrimage spots of Buddhist devotees still have some remnants of these stupas. Hundreds of stupas around the world still house those precious relics of Buddha and his disciples. They have become the most valuable objects of adoration, veneration and circumambulation for faithful devotees.

In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha predicted that there will be continuous activities such as circumambulation of these places by faithful devotees. He also encouraged his disciples to tell new monks, nuns and lay devotees that a pilgrimage to these places will help to purify their negative karma. He mentioned the names of four sacred places in particular to remember and go for pilgrimage: Lumbini, where the Enlightened One was born; Bodhgaya, where he attained enlightenment; Sarnath, where he turned the Wheel of Dharma; and Kushinagar, where he entered into Parinirvana. These four places have become immensely popular, and thousands of faithful devotees, pilgrims and tourists from all over the world visit them every year.

As soon as Lord Buddha demonstrated the law of impermanence, a council of five hundred Arhats assembled in Rajgriha, on the slope of a mountain under the patronage of King Ajatasatru. This was presided over by Mahakashyapa, Upali and Ananda. There, they recollected all the teachings of Buddha so that the lamp of wisdom would abide in the world to dispel the darkness.

Since it was Ananda who had heard the Lord speak more often than anyone else, they decided, with the agreement of the ordained Sangha community, to ask him to recite his utterances. Ananda, seated on a high and glorious throne repeated the sermons as they had been spoken by the Best of All Speakers. He had the skill of non-forgetfulness. He repeated the original sermons by adding, "Thus I have heard", and with a statement of time, place, the occasion and the person addressed, at the beginning and how all listeners delightfully praised the Lord at the end of the sermons.

The Buddha's teachings and sayings were divided into three sections which became known as the "Tripitaka" or "three baskets of teachings". They are:

1.    the Vinaya-pitaka, the moral disciplines repeated by Upali, the oldest disciple:
2.    the Sutra-pitaka, the collection of major discourses repeated by Ananda, Buddha's cousin; and
3.    the Abhidharma-pitaka, the collection of metaphysical teachings repeated by Mahakashyapa, who was the most learned disciple of the Buddha.

All the teachings and works of the Buddha are recorded in the most sacred languages such as Sanskrit and Pali. Many of his works were translated into numerous other languages when Buddhism spread to diverse countries. However, there are not many languages which have preserved the whole teachings of Buddha. One of the best collections and most accurate translations of the entire teachings is luckily found in the Tibetan language. It is the most valuable thing to have in the world and we have preserved it in at least that one language over thousands of years.

VISUALISATION OF BUDDHA

Guru Shakyamuni Buddha is the manifestation of the omniscient mind of all the Enlightened Beings. He appears as a monk in very beautiful robes, sitting in the cross-legged full lotus position. His body is completely transparent, like a water bubble, but without resistance to matter, not appearing as a solid statue such as those made of cement. It is golden in colour, indestructible and glorious looking. The palm of his right hand is on his right knee, his fingers touching the sun cushion, and in the palm of his left, at the level of his navel, he holds a bowl.

The bowl is full of nectar to stop our bodily and mental suffering. There is also the nectar to stop delusions of death, not Guru Shakyamuni's, but ours. The right hand touching the ground symbolises control over hindrances to those who practice Dharma.

The beautiful robes, that adorn his Holy Body, are separated from it by a distance of about one inch, because of the power of his realisations. His face is also very beautiful, and its smiling appearance brings incredible bliss within our mind. His lips are cherry red. The lobes of his ears are long. His hair is dark blue, and each strand is individually curled and not mixed with the others.

His Holy Body is radiating light, many rays emanating from each pore and passing through infinite space to each and every sentient being, to those in the different universes, on the different planets, and in the different realms. And each of these rays bears countless miniature Guru Shakyamuni Buddhas: many of them going out to work for the benefit of sentient beings in the six samsaric realms, and many others coming back, being absorbed through the pores into his Holy Body, having finished working for sentient beings.

Quote of the Day

“I myself feel, and also tell other Buddhists that the question of Nirvana will come later. There is not much hurry. If in day to day life you lead a good life, honesty, with love, with compassion, with less selfishness, then automatically it will lead to Nirvana. ”
The Dalai Lama